Everyone has a story to tell. Some are funny, others are serious, and many are therapeutic. Sharing these stories helps young people deal with conflicts, spark insights and even alter their behavior.

Oral tales have been around since ancient times, now creatives have the added bonus of using video to tell their stories.

“Storytelling has been a healing practice for centuries across many cultures. It allows individuals to come together and be heard, recognized and validated,” says Ana Maria McCleary, probation and youth enrichment services supervisor in Snohomish County. “When we allow our community’s at-risk youth to feel heard and recognized in a prosocial setting, we validate them and their identity, which can have a lasting positive impact on recidivism.”

According to a Local Indigent Care Needs assessment, Snohomish County has more than 20,000 teens, between the ages of 12-19, who are living below the poverty line on less than $25,000 a year. The need to provide under-resourced and at-risk teens the care and tools to thrive is greater than ever.

Youth involved with the juvenile justice system are less likely to have positive adult support and feel connected to their community. They often lack involvement in structured prosocial activities, notes Mike Irons, probation program manager for the Snohomish County Juvenile Court.

In 2019, Ripple Ministries launched the Teen Storytellers Project providing free filmmaking classes to teens in Snohomish County. In the fall of 2019 new classes for court-involved students from Denney Juvenile Center’s Youth Enrichment programs began.

When teens connect to their community, interact with positive adults and participate in a structured activity, the experience can also help them attain a bright and meaningful future.

“At the Teen Storytellers Project Digital Gym we teach students how to tell a good story that contains a mix of well-developed characters, an interesting plot and how to explore themes that help them accomplish their goal of entertaining and challenging their audience,” says Carrie Gove, executive director of Ripple Ministries. “Some stories are told in documentary form, which helps students develop connection to their communities.”

Whatever form the stories take, building the skills to tell them puts students on a pathway to pursuing careers in media production and videography. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in media is expected to grow by 14% between 2020-2030, with an addition of 151,500 jobs.

By combining mentorship and technical training with the therapeutic act of storytelling, Teen Storytellers Project helps students grow in confidence, collaborative skills and also how to be a positive voice in their communities.

TSP student “J” struggled with communication because of a medical condition he suffered as an infant. He began taking film classes in 2019. His passion for filmmaking quickly became evident. He took an intuitive and motivated approach to every project he worked on. After completing three classes, he helped film and edit 27 short videos for a local nonprofit in Snohomish.

As the lockdown ended, the number of families responding to advertised classes tripled. At times the Teen Storytellers Project has as many students on the wait list as enrolled in classes.

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Ripple Ministries of Snohomish hopes to raise $75,000 for TSP in the coming year. Donations will be used to increase facility space, add staff and purchase equipment needed to expand filmmaking education, including classes for incarcerated teens at Denny Juvenile Justice Center.

When given the tools and ability to tell stories, students feel empowered and they master skills that create opportunities for them, while also benefiting the community.

Ripple Ministries of Snohomish exists to serve at-risk, under-resourced teens in Snohomish County. Through the Teen Storytellers Project Digital Gym we strive to spark hope while inspiring creativity, collaboration and care for community through the art and science of filmmaking.